16 Jun 2011

Air NZ cancels flights due to ash cloud

8:01 am on 16 June 2011

Air New Zealand has joined the list of airlines that have cancelled flights due to ash cloud from a volcano in Chile.

Hundreds of flights operated by other airlines have already been cancelled and thousands of people have had their travel plans disrupted since Sunday because of the cloud.

Air New Zealand had maintained services by flying below the ash, but on Wednesday night cancelled five domestic flights in and out of Dunedin.

Some flights operated by Air Nelson and Mt Cook Airline to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill were also cancelled.

Air New Zealand says the ash cloud has dropped to about 10,000 feet over the bottom of the South Island and it cannot fly long distances at that height.

The national carrier says it will review the situation on Thursday morning.

Since Sunday, Australian airline Qantas and budget offshoot Jetstar have cancelled trans-Tasman flights, saying it is too dangerous to fly.

Both say their flights will be cancelled until at least midday on Thursday.

Pacific Blue's flights to and from Christchurch and Wellington are cancelled until at least 9am on Thursday.

Volcano still erupting

The Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano range in Chile began erupting on 4 June and continues to emit ash and smoke.

Experts say it is hard to know when the eruption will run its course.

An eruption in 1960 lasted a fortnight, but in 1921 the volcano continued erupting for a couple of months.

The BBC reports some 4000 people have been evacuated from the region.